Wide receiver Michael Young's injury another blow to Notre Dame's passing game

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Michael Young’s debut as a starting wide receiver will likely have to wait.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior broke his collarbone during Saturday’s practice inside Notre Dame Stadium, a source confirmed with the Tribune.

Irish Sports Daily first reported Young’s injury as a broken collarbone. Immediately following Saturday’s practice, head coach Brian Kelly said he hadn’t received further information on Young’s status.

Young’s timetable for return remained unclear Sunday. Tight end Cole Kmet suffered a similar injury earlier this month and was given an estimated recovery time of 4-10 weeks after undergoing surgery. The Tribune’s source was unsure if Young would also require surgery.

Notre Dame’s practice schedule included an off day Sunday. Kelly should be able to provide more details on Young’s injury at Wednesday’s press conference.

Since the spring, Young has taken over as the top option as the outside receiver to the wide side of the field. He was in line to receive the first start of his college career during the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 2.

Young, a product of Destrehan (La.) High, has played in all 26 games of his Notre Dame career as a reserve wide receiver and on special teams. Last season, Young caught seven passes for 138 yards and one touchdown.

During Young’s absence, the Irish will likely have to rely on some of their rising sophomore wide receivers. After Young was injured in Saturday’s practice, graduate student Chris Finke moved outside to Young’s position and sophomore Lawrence Keys III filled in at the slot receiver.

The 5-10, 173-pound Keys scored a touchdown in the scrimmage portion of Saturday’s practice. He showed his elusiveness and speed with a catch and run down the sideline for roughly 20 yards.

If Notre Dame wants to keep Finke in the slot, sophomores Braden Lenzy and Joe Wilkins Jr. would be the top candidates to play field receiver to start the season. Both Lenzy and Wilkins have shown flashes of potential in the spring and preseason camp.

Lenzy (5-11, 180) gives the Irish an option with speed. In April, Lenzy tweeted that he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds which beat Young’s time of 4.48 seconds. Wilkins brings more size to the position at 6-2, 194.

All three players — Keys, Lenzy and Wilkins — redshirted last season and did not record a catch in game action.

Fellow sophomore Kevin Austin Jr. could become an option as well, but he’s not expected to be available to play in the first few games of the season. In practices this preseason, Austin has been working mostly as a scout team player. Kelly has declined to elaborate on Austin’s status.

Austin’s treatment mirrors how Notre Dame’s football program handled university-imposed suspensions for wide receiver Kevin Stepherson in 2016 and running back Dexter Williams last season. Austin, a former four-star recruit, caught five passes for 90 yards last season.

Notre Dame’s passing game can still remain potent with senior quarterback Ian Book running the offense, but his options are becoming less experienced with injuries to Kmet and Young. Returning starters Chase Claypool and Finke combined for 99 catches last season and are due for productive seasons once again.

Beyond Claypool and Finke and without Kmet and Young able to play, Notre Dame doesn’t have a healthy player on the roster with more than 14 career receptions. All 14 of junior running back Jafar Armstrong’s receptions came last season. No other wide receiver or tight end on the roster has more than five career catches.

Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Young broke his collarbone in Saturday’s practice, a source confirmed with the Tribune.